The unique foods of Greece and their health benefits: Aegina Pistachios (Pistacia Vera)
Since ancient times, the Greeks had realized how precious the gifts of Mother Nature were. The Mediterranean climate along with the geological formations of the country created a fertile ground where an abundance of wild herbs and plants could grow. In Greece, pistachio trees were first cultivated in the 1860s on the island of Aegina; a milestone date both for the economy of the island and internationally as Fystikia Aeginis evolved into one of the best pistachio varieties in the world!
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” –Hippocrates
Aegina Pistachio Nuts (Pistacia Vera)
ORIGIN AND TRAITS
Over the centuries and cultural interactions, people’s dietary preferences and needs have altered and run through various phases. However, there is a number of nourishing products that have been a staple for thousands of years. Such products are pistachios (from pistakion; the green nut), a member of the nuts family that have been cultivated in Asia since 6,000 BC and were later introduced to Europe.
In Greece, pistachio trees were first cultivated in the 1860s on the island of Aegina; a milestone date both for the economy of the island and internationally as Fystikia Aeginis evolved into one of the best pistachio varieties in the world. In fact, the climatic conditions and the fertile soil composition of the western side of Aegina determine the unique flavor and aroma of the nut with the distinguished taste. The main variety cultivated on the island is called koilarati, due to the round shape of the nut and is protected under the E.U regulation of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
Upon planting, Pistachio trees span an average of 10 years until reaching production. During the months of November through March they remain bare. In late March, pollen is transferred from the male tree to the female resulting in its blossoming. The nuts grow and are harvested during the months of August and September with the use of special equipment. Then, they are sent to hulling and drying machines, are sorted out and are then roasted.
Susceptible to disease, pistachio plants demand intensive means of protection which is challenging for the cultivators; however, the end result, the unique flavor and aroma of Aegina pistachios makes the island and the product stand out.
BENEFITS AND HEALING PROPERTIES
Archaeological research has shown that our ancestors integrated the consumption of nuts and pistachios, in particular, into their everyday life. Later scientific research shed light on the nutritional value and health benefits of pistachios, justifying the dietary choices of our ancestors and urging us to learn by example.
In fact, this healthy nut is packed with vitamins (vitamin A, C, E, K, and B6), minerals and nutrients such as amino acids, protein and dietary fiber. It is also rich in antioxidants and unsaturated fatty acids which prevent cell damage and promote good health.
The polyphenols and tocopherols abundant in pistachios protect against heart disease while lutein and zeaxanthin enhance eye health. Compared to other nuts, pistachios contain lower amounts of fat and calories while, on the other hand, higher rates of protein, aiding in digestion and weight control. Daily consumption can also help stabilize blood sugar levels, protecting against diabetes.
Its high content in vitamin B6 and amino acids synthesizes myelin, a protein which protects the nervous system and produces serotonin and melatonin that help reduce stress. For the same reason, pistachio oil is also essential in aromatherapy as it promotes relaxation.
This healthy nut has also got anti-ageing properties, as the selenium and vitamin E it contains helps maintain the elasticity of the skin, ensures hydration and protects against UV radiation.
USE AND DOSAGE
Aegina pistachios can be consumed fresh or roasted, untreated or salted. In order to benefit from their health benefits consumed fresh is advised. You can benefit by eating them plain from a bowl or add them to healthy recipes.
As they are packed with proteins and energy they make an ideal addition to breakfast meals. Add them in your granola bowl for an energetic start of the day. Pistachio paste is also ideal to add on top of toast, wasa bars or a bowl of yogurt.
The fact that they contain unsaturated fats which helps control weight and blood sugar levels, makes this nut a must mid-day snack. Healthy bars made with pistachio and honey, pasteli, are an easy to reach snack that you can keep in your bag.
Moreover, whole or chopped, they make a perfect addition to salads; they go well with avocado and cucumbers but feel free to experiment with different tastes and textures. Remember that a handful or two a day (1, 5-3 ounces) is enough to offer nutritional benefits. Overconsumption is not advised as pistachios have a quite high caloric value (160 calories per 1 oz.).
RESEARCH AND INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
Pistachios have been consumed for thousands of years and they are even considered to be the tree that Adam brought to Earth along with the almond tree (Genesis 43:11). A superfood of the past is nowadays the object or scientific research.
In a 2012 study conducted by the International Life Sciences Institute, between two groups participating in a weight-loss program the subjects who consumed pistachios on a daily basis demonstrated lower body mass index and decreased triglyceride levels compared to those who did not¹.
According to research published by the US National Library of Medicine, chronic pistachio consumption is a useful nutritional tool against diabetes; “pistachios have a glucose- and insulin-lowering effect, promote a healthier metabolic profile, and reverse certain metabolic deleterious consequences of prediabetes.” ²
Pistachios have indubitably been proven to have a positive effect on our health but the Aegina pistachios with the certified unique aroma and taste can definitely elevate a culinary experience!